Tweet by Georgia Public Broadcasting Writer Reveals More Chain of Custody Document Discrepancies in Fulton County Absentee Ballot Transfer Forms

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A tweet by Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) News writer Stephen Fowler on Saturday revealed more chain of custody document discrepancies in Fulton County’s absentee ballot drop box transfer forms.

The tweet included a partial image – the very top only – of two transfer forms Fowler claims were part of an open records response GPB News received on Wednesday from Fulton County election officials.

The problem is that the absentee ballot count in the forms that Fowler tweeted does not match the official spreadsheet Fulton County provided The Star News on May 3.

In fact, Fowler’s tweeted images claim a total of 36 absentee ballots were collected from the Metropolitan Library and Cleveland Avenue Library drop boxes on October 11, while the official spreadsheet from Fulton County showed only 15 total absentee ballots collected from those two drop boxes on that day.

The transfer forms presented in Fowler’s tweet creates a discrepancy with Fulton County’s “Absentee Ballot Drop Box – Daily County – November 3 2020” spreadsheet used to track the absentee ballot collections from 37 drop boxes over the 41-day election period that results in an over count of 21 absentee ballots.

Fowler’s tweet included only a partial image of one of the transfer forms, so further analysis of the transfer forms to the Fulton County daily count spreadsheet or for compliance to the State Election Board Emergency Rule 83-1-14-0.8-.14 could not be conducted by The Star News.

Fowler (pictured above) offered no information about the remaining 375 transfer forms (385 missing on June 14 minus eight still missing according to GPB on June 16 minus two partial transfer forms displayed in Fowler tweet) he said he received from Fulton County that The Star News has not yet received in response to our multiple open records requests.

On Monday, June 14, The Star News broke the news that a Fulton County election official admitted that “a few forms are missing” and that during a COVID outbreak at the Elections Preparation Center warehouse “some procedural paperwork may have been misplaced” with regard to the 385 drop box transfer forms The Star News is still missing from the 1,565 Fulton County documented on their spreadsheet.

The admission came in response to several open records requests and follow-ups with Fulton County for the full chain of custody documents for drop boxes used for absentee ballots during the November 3, 2020, election.

Two days later, on Wednesday, June 16, GPB News published Fowler’s story, “Fact Check: Fulton County Is Not Missing Ballots Or Hundreds of Drop Box Custody Forms.”

In the story, Fowler said that GPB News is also missing some chain of custody documents from Fulton, although not as many as The Star News.

“[A]fter GPB News asked the [Fulton] county Monday about the forms not included in the Georgia Star’s records request, elections staff located all but eight of the more than 1,500 forms” and “provided them to GPB News on a flash drive,” wrote Fowler.

GPB News said that Fulton County Elections Board Director Rick Barron told elections board members during a meeting on Thursday, June 17, “that staff spent more than 200 hours this week locating the forms to counter the claims of ‘missing’ forms.”

Meanwhile, Fulton County has not provided the additional transfer forms to The Star News that they have located and supplied to GPB News.

A follow-up email was sent to Fulton County elections officials on Friday, June 18, once again providing an explanation for the 18,901 absentee ballots Fulton County disagreed were represented on the missing 385 drop box transfer forms.  The Star News also asked Fulton County for the transfer forms that were provided to GPB News but not The Star News as well as explanations for why GPB News received a response to their open records request within 48 hours of their request, despite incomplete responses to three of our open records requests dating back to December 2020.

Rasmussen Reports, an independent electronic media company specializing in public opinion polling information, pointed out the apparent disparity in Fulton County’s response to open records requests, which Fowler then replied to.

Fowler, touting his “amazing” journalism and process skills in asking for records, received within 48 hours the same records that The Star News has been requesting from Fulton County for months.

Rasmussen expounds on government’s seeming double standard when it comes to public records responses to private media outlets versus taxpayer-funded outlets, only to be used by the latter against the former.

The case Fowler seems to make on behalf of Fulton County is that The Star News has not supplied enough information for election officials to know what absentee ballot drop box chain of custody documents they still have not provided in response to our open records requests.

Fulton County initially provided The Star News with two PDF files on January 22 that had labels ending in “BX1” and “BX3.”

While The Star News is not privy to what documents Fulton County actually has in its possession as a result of its administration of the November 3, 2020, election, The Star News advised Fulton County that forms for an estimated 30,000 absentee ballots – along with an explanation of how that number was derived – were missing.

Additionally, and somewhat more obviously, it appeared a file ending in “BX2” was missing.

Then, in response to a thumb drive provided by Fulton County on May 3 that was supposed to have all of the transfer files, including a re-scan of those supplied on January 22, The Star News advised Fulton County that it appeared 385 drop box transfer forms for 18,901 absentee ballots were still missing.

In addition to The Star News providing details to Fulton County on the 385 missing documents for 18,901 ballots, the detailed analysis The Star News conducted using the transfer forms and the Fulton County daily count spreadsheet was published on June 14.

The spreadsheet, clearly marked with yellow highlighting, indicates the individual collections as well as the six full days – including September 28, October 7, October 9, October 10, October 11 and October 20 – for which Fulton County provided no transfer forms to The Star News, combined for a total 385 transfer forms.

It should also be noted that 385 is the minimum number of drop box transfer forms that were not provided, because there could have been more than one absentee ballot collection per drop box on any given day during the election period.

In fact, Fulton County’s own documentation on the daily count spreadsheet anticipates that there would be two collections from each drop box on election day, prior to the third collection at the poll closing time of 7 p.m. on November 3.

The Star News will publish any updates regarding the response from Fulton County, which was requested by end of business, Monday, June 21.

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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter with The Star News Network, where she covers stories for The Tennessee Star and The Georgia Star News.
Photo “Stephen Fowler” by Georgia Public Broadcasting.

 

 

 

 

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